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With Manning In Town, A Look At the Pass-Happy NFL


There's something in the air and it looks remarkably like a football.

All the talking heads say the NFL is "a passing league" and the figures back them up.

"More and more people think that throwing the ball is the way you've got to win now," NBC analyst and former coach Tony Dungy says.

"It's now a pass-first league," says Solomon Wilcots, the former defensive back who doubles up with the NFL Network and CBS.

The 33,452 net passing yards accrued through five weeks are the most ever at this point of the season. Six quarterbacks have combined to pass for 400 yards or more in a game seven times, also the most ever through the first five weeks of a season.

One more 400-yard game will tie for third-most in a season. The record of 13 was set in 1986 and equaled in 2004.

Take note of that, with the Indianapolis Colts and Peyton Manning meeting the Redskins Sunday night. The Colts don't waste a lot of time handing the ball off. They throw. Now in his 13th season, Manning has been one of the players redefining the NFL. He has passed for 300 yards or more 59 times and only two players – Hall of Famer Dan Marino and Brett Favre – ever did it more.

"I think it is evolving into more of a passing league. Some officiating is geared to more of an offensive style of play and teams are taking advantage of it," Redskins center Casey Rabach says.

Sure, there are holdouts. The New York Jets sport a 4-1 record and lead the NFL in rushing. They're old school.

"It's all about a coach's philosophy," Rabach says. "You look at (Jets coach) Rex Ryan and you can't get more throw-back than that."

Look elsewhere and you just get more throwing. Phillip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers owns two of this year's 400-yards games. He leads the NFL with 1,759 yards, ahead of Kyle Orton of the Denver Broncos (1,733) and Manning (1,609). This marks the first time in NFL history that three passers cracked 1,600 yards in their teams' first five games.

"You see a lot more teams that are pass-first," says Redskins receiver Anthony Armstrong. "Green Bay, the New England Patriots are predominately a pass team, the Colts have been a passing team. A lot of teams are using the pass to set up the run. Short passes will be basically glorified run plays."

Yet there's still a place for the ground game.

"When you get down to the nitty gritty of it, you have to be able to run," Armstrong says. "When you get down to those playoff games, the teams that seem to be able to run it are sometimes more successful. But I think that having a good balance in the end is really what's going to make you more successful."

The Colts were the NFL's worst rushing team last season but they reached the Super Bowl. Imbalance is not always an imperfection.

Repeatedly getting burned by the pass hurts but to Rabach's mind nothing stings a defense like repeated runs that result in time-sucking drives and physical exhaustion. Which is more debilitating, an onslaught of passes or the old-fashioned pitter-patter of large feet?

"I think the running game, definitely," he says. "That's more man on man, in your face. When you can run on a defense when they know you're going to run, I think that's more demoralizing for a defense."

QUOTABLE: "As a team, we just fell apart." – Cincinnati Bengals safety Chris Crocker after falling to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at home. ... "I think we are losing fans by the minute." – Buffalo Bills safety Donte Whitner on his 0-5 team. ... "I don't really want to get into who might be the next quarterback. I think I want to exhaust everything with Alex Smith." – San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Singletary, who considered replacing the embattled Smith with David Carr for the 0-5 Niners.

AROUND THE NFL: The Philadelphia Eagles have won 21 games in a row when they've led at halftime. That's the longest such streak in the NFL. ... Cleveland Browns kicker Phil Dawson is tied with Hall of Famer Lou Groza for the club's all-time lead in field goals (234). ... The Redskins' eight takeaways put them about in the middle of the pack in the league but that's nearly half as many as they had all of last season (17). ... The winless Carolina Panthers lead the NFL in something – fourth-down conversion attempts. They've made five of 10. ... Hard to believe but one-time Redskins flop Brandon Lloyd (and he failed other places as well) leads the AFC with 589 receiving yards for the Broncos. … Arizona Cardinals safety Kerry Rhodes has two fumble recoveries and has returned both for touchdowns. ... Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco needs 147 passing yards to pass Kyle Boller (7,846) as the franchise's all-time leader. ... The New York Giants have won 14 games in a row when defensive lineman Justin Tuck gets a sack.

Larry Weisman, an award-winning journalist during 25 years with USA TODAY, writes for and appears nightly on Redskins Nation on Comcast SportsNet. Read his Redskinsblitz blog at and follow him on

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